Green Guru: How Safe Are BPA Alternatives?

Alternatives to BPA may not be as safe as you think, so choose wisely. 

How safe are alternatives to BPA?

—Polly Andrews, Austin, TX

The furor over the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A has spurred numerous companies to find substitutes to take its place in products from plastic baby bottles to soup cans. BPA has been shown to leach into our food and drinks and may cause a host of human health problems; it’s also widespread in the environment and has been detected in water and soil. One study showed that when participants drank from polycarbonate bottles for one week, BPA exposure increased by two-thirds. Yet the alternatives may not be any safer. “ ‘BPA free’ is perhaps the best and worst thing that has happened,” says Patricia Hunt, a Washington State University biologist. “It’s good because it has raised consumer awareness. It’s bad because not all BPA-free plastics are free of compounds related to this nasty actor.”

Industry has tweaked the molecule, in many instances, to create BPS or BPF, which could be as bad as or even worse than the original villain. They haven’t been scrutinized as heavily as BPA, says Pete Myers, CEO and chief scientist for Environmental Health Sciences. Under existing laws, companies can introduce chemicals to the marketplace without providing any safety data (unless they’re pesticides or come in contact with food), and the government bears the burden of proving that a substance is toxic.

There are other alternatives like cardboard beverage cartons, which actually have several layers that include aluminum and plastic. But very little information about their chemical make-up is publicly available, says Jane Muncke, an environmental risk assessment specialist. 

At the very least, consider swapping out plastic containers for one of these alternatives: glass, stainless steel, or aluminum, experts say. Dr. Brown’s and Evenflo sell glass baby bottles, and Klean Kanteen offers stainless steel water bottles. You can order them online or find them at your local grocery store. Sip safely.